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Saving Lives in Alaska
The wide open spaces of a rugged Alaskan landscape are much different from the manicured lawns that blanket the housing developments of suburban Green, where Joel Hukill grew up.
Today, he’s no stranger to the mountains, remote villages and severe weather that can whip across The Last Frontier. There, this 28-year-old stares down the impossible as he battles the conditions to save lives.
Hukill is a flight nurse for Guardian Flight Alaska. He is living out a dream he didn’t realize he’d had. Now, he has no doubts that he’s found his calling.
“Choosing this profession is the best decision that I have ever made,” said the 2014 graduate of the nursing program at Kent State University at Stark. “Nursing has so much to offer; it is truly a career in which you can transition from the NICU to end-of-life care and everything in between. We change lives every day.”
Hukill congratulates the nurses graduating as part of the 2019 class. To the recent grads, Hukill said, “The nursing program at Kent State Stark will serve you well. My professors, who I now call mentors, have helped me every step of the way.”
He credits Professor Chrissy Kauth, R.N., Ph.D., with inspiring his “can do” attitude and drive to help people every day. “I am just so proud of everything that Joel has accomplished,” said Kauth.
ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Adventure calls Hukill’s name, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, the 2009 Green High School graduate was happy with choosing a university close to home and thought he’d stay in this region.
Entering college during The Great Recession, Hukill’s thinking was practical: where are the jobs? The answer was health care.
“Kent State Stark’s nursing program was challenging in ways that bettered my future as a nurse,” he said. “At one point, I doubted whether I would make it through to graduation, but my professors encouraged me to keep moving forward. I’m so glad that I did.”
Hukill began his career working at a Massillon-area hospital as a technician, quickly moving on to the Emergency Department after passing his boards. He aspired to work at Metro Health in Cleveland, a Level 1 trauma hospital. There, he decided he wanted to become a flight nurse.
“They have a certain way about them, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “This, to me, is the highest level you can achieve as a nurse, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
But how to get there?
Hukill set a goal and strategized his next steps. He became a travel nurse, moving across the country, deployed to hospitals with the greatest need. Hukill seized the opportunity to grow his skills and delve into specialities, such as cardiovascular intensive care. He also fell in love… with the Pacific Northwest.
Last year, Hukill landed a full-time position with Guardian Flight Alaska, the largest air medical ambulance in Alaska. The company uses different types of aircraft, ranging from helicopters to a Learjet, enabling the team to reach remote villages or quickly transport patients to hospitals across the United States. Most frequently, patients are transported to Anchorage or Seattle.
“You never really know what you are going to encounter,” Hukill said. “It is The Last Frontier and truly an amazing place. There is certainly a lack of resources, and in some cases, there are no roads to reach remote villages.”
His shifts are in two-week stints, working two and then off for two. The company provides housing in Juneau.
Would he do it again?
“Choosing to become a nurse was the best decision that I’ve ever made,” Hukill said. “For all of the future nurses, I have to say when it gets tough -- and, it will -- remember what you are there for. You may get frustrated, but remember the bottom line is that you are here to help people. That’s what you are really there for in the end.”
Hukill said he holds tight to Professor Kauth’s words, “when you sign up to become a nurse, you take an oath.”
An oath to help. Anytime. Anywhere.
Maybe even in The Last Frontier.